Hurricane Season

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June 1st is the start of hurricane season, and I have seen an influx of different hurricane related articles and columns the past two weeks.

We went to Galveston for the day (more on that in another post) and there are reminders about hurricane season everywhere. All along the causeway bridge there were big billboards that proclaimed “HURRICANE SEASON, BE PREPARED.” And later on that morning, while we were eating a mid-morning snack at the Mosquito Cafe, there was a small plaque on the wall noting where the high water mark was during Hurricane Ike. It was taller than Derek!

We arrived here at the end of the summer last year, so while hurricane season was on our mind, it was soon over. Now, staring down a full season, it feels different.

We have a weekly little reporters meeting, and during last week’s meeting, our editor gave us advice, because none of the current reporters have been around for the last two hurricane events, which happened in 2005 and 2008.

There were lessons to be learned from both hurricanes. I have been reading up on the impacts of both, and I am glad that, if another hurricane were to come, Houston should (hopefully) be more prepared.

Hurricane Rita formed just a few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was barreling towards Houston, which understandably caused a lot of widespread panic. A few days out, Rita was, at the time, one of the strongest hurricanes on record. It seems as if everyone in Houston tried to leave all at once, which caused major problems.

Out of everyone who died in that hurricane, the majority of the people died during the evacuations. All of the highways out turned into parking lots. The opposite sides of the road weren’t opened until it was a little too late. People ran out of gas and then that turned into having heat strokes. A bus carrying senior citizens traveling to Dallas over heated and caught fire. All this for almost nothing. Rita ended up turning east, and didn’t hit Galveston/Houston as originally thought. Most people who evacuated could have just stayed home.

Hurricane Ike, however, did hit Galveston and came onshore to Houston quite dead on. Our editor told us that it knocked out the entire power grid and some people were without power for THREE WEEKS. Now just imagine how that feels in the middle of a Texas summer, when the temperature can easily reach 100 degrees.

The advice he gave if another hurricane like that happens is, to try to stay ahead of the game. Already have batteries and candles on hand (check and check.) Make sure you have plenty of water and non perishable food. And whatever we do, try to make it out to the grocery store and a gas station ahead of everyone else.

He said that, even though we always have a few days notice ahead of time that a hurricane may hit, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, and then it is a frenzy.

I am sure that Derek and I would have this kind of common sense if a hurricane were to show up at our door step, but it is still helpful to hear it from someone else who has lived through two bad hurricanes.

We looked at evacuation routes, and we are just to the west of evacuation zones. So, if there is a mandatory evacuation, we won’t have to go, but depending on how safe we feel, we may leave anyway. The University of Houston is in an evacuation zone, which is good to know. In the event of a hurricane, UH would probably have to close down.

I read somewhere that there is a 32 percent chance of Houston being hit, and I’ve heard talk that “We’re due for a dead on hit again since it’s been a few years.” I don’t think it works that way, but who knows what will happen this summer, or the next.

 

Phoenicia

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I didn’t expect to write about a grocery store, but Phoenicia is so much more than just a grocery store. It is a destination in its own right.

Derek first discovered Phoenicia back in the fall, and he suggested that we check it out together. The first time we were there we only did a quick look through and got drinks to go from the cafe inside, but we both knew we had to come back and thoroughly look around.

So, Phoenicia, located in downtown, is first and foremost a grocery store, but there is only the basics like meats, fruits and vegetables. Don’t come here looking to get everything on your shopping list like toilet paper and cat food. Their website describes themselves as “Houston’s one-stop gourmet, international food experience with more than 10,000 products from more than 50 countries.” It is most definitely an international food experience, but also an international people experience too! I think I must have heard four or five different languages spoken there.

Today we decided to go have lunch there. They have a bakery and cafe inside, as well as multiple deli sections. I decided to go Greek, and I got spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves. I also got a honey and lavender scone to go. Derek got a turkey, bacon and swiss sandwich with a brownie. The meal selection is expansive. It is hard to decide what to want because it all looks so good!

There is a section to eat inside, but there are also tables outside so we ate our food outside. There were tons of people there, most looked like they were with colleagues on lunch break from work.

After we were done with lunch, we decided to peruse the aisles. I was really impressed with all the selection, and happy to see tons of Kinder chocolate and Walker shortbread cookies. (Yum!) I was intrigued by the middle eastern section, and they had a ton of loose leaf teas that I will definitely have to purchase in the future. They have a upstairs section that has some more food, a bunch of kitchen gadgets and cookware, and a huge wine selection.

My recommendation is that if you know someone who is a food connoisseur, you could do some gift shopping for them at Phoenicia!

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Growing bucket list

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My Texas bucket list keeps growing instead of getting shorter, but I suppose that is a good thing. I was worried about running out of things to do, but I suppose that is the rural girl in me talking. Can you ever run out of things to do in a city?

Since Derek’s semester just ended, he’s looking at a nice three month break. I looked at my list and picked out a handful of things that we can do during my days off. I’m usually gung ho about making (and then crossing off) to-do lists, but I’m finding that this is one list that I want to keep adding to. I recently checked off “Go to the Houston Rodeo” and “Photograph bluebonnets” but I’ve definitely added a bit more too.

For instance, I have decided that I would like to attend a Houston Astros game. I’m not into baseball to be honest, but where else can I see a Major League Baseball game? The tickets are cheap (starting at $12) and it is something different to do.

I have some major cities on my list like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, but what about the other smaller towns to visit? Through some research, I now want to visit places such as Gonzales (the site of the first battle for Texas Independence and the famous “Come and Take It” cannon) and Fredericksburg, a German town which looks like it has a pretty little main street filled with shops and restaurants.

One of Derek’s professors suggested that we visit the San Jacinto monument (Battle of San Jacinto was another Texas Independence battle) and the Houston Ship Channel as well. On the list they all go.

We’ve also gotten to see big production shows such as Book of Mormon and Cirque du Soleil, and I am sure there will always be another one we want to see soon enough. I would like to see The Nutcracker next Christmas.

I wonder what will be next? I am looking forward to finding out.

Mapping Texas

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about an exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is called Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State.

I got to go see the exhibit for free, instead of paying for a ticket, which was really cool.

There was a collection of about 50 maps, most of them on loan from the Texas General Land Office. The maps range from the year 1513 to the 1900s.

One of the highlights in the exhibit is the huge 7 feet by 7 feet Stephen F. Austin “connected map” of Austin’s Colony, drawn by Austin himself.

The oldest map, from 1513, is by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. It is supposedly one of the first maps to show the gulf coast. The countries are all disproportionate, and it took me a few minutes of studying it to figure out what I was actually looking at!

I enjoyed looking at the older maps when Texas wasn’t Texas; when it was still a part of Spain or Mexico. It was interesting to see the 13 colonies on some maps, and then out west was wide and open. Sometimes I still forget that I am “out west.”

There were also some maps that showed the early grids of Houston. I wonder if the men who founded it ever realized that it would become such a larger city!

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Stephen F. Austin’s map.

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The 1513 Waldseemüller map.

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Art Car Parade preview

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The Art Car Parade is an annual event in Houston, and I’ve been told by many people that it is quite the quirky thing to attend.

Unfortunately the parade is on a Saturday, (like most events) and I work weekends. However, I lucked out this time because there was a special preview of about half the cars at the Discovery Green park on Thursday night.

It was really neat to see so many different cars. The collection of “junk” on some of them was just amazing! The owners of the cars really get to show off their artistic abilities and their creativity. My favorite car was  one with singing fish and lobsters. The lobsters and the fish would move in sync with songs! It was hilarious!

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Crawfish season

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Crawfish season runs March through May. I happened to look at a post on the Houston Chronicle’s website for the best places to eat crawfish, and one of the places, Hungry’s had a midweek special Crawfish on the Patio special, which is perfect because my days off are midweek, plus the restaurant was nearby.

We went one night a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be quite the experience. We got a pound of crawfish for $7, which was a great deal. A pound seems like a lot, but the amount of meat inside each crawfish is small, so you have to eat a lot of them to get your filling. The meal is also served with corn on the cob and potatoes.

The crawfish are served whole, legs, head, eyes and all. It was a little weird and took some getting used to!

There is a technique to getting the meat out. I actually looked up YouTube videos on it in advance! You have to put two fingers on the head, and two fingers from another hand on the tail and you twist and pull apart. The meat is in the tail.

We found out that some people suck the head to get the fat and the juices out, but that seemed a bit to much for us, so we skipped that part. If you feel we’re truly missing out, please let us know!

The meal was seasoned with cajun spices, which, while they were good, was a bit too much for me. I wasn’t feeling the spices inside my mouth, but rather on the outside of my lips, which started to burn after a while! At one point I was close to crying.

Apparently crawfish, also known as crayfish, crawdaddies, mudbugs, can be found just about anywhere near a body of fresh water, but Louisiana supplies 95 percent of the crawfish harvested in the U.S. Being so close to Louisiana, Houston gets to reap the benefits. I’m glad we went. It’s good to try something new, and we’ll probably go back for more each season.

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Rodeo concerts: Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley

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After the rodeo events are completed, there is a concert each night. Out of three weeks, the majority of the concerts are country artists, which is great for a country music fan like me. There are other genres of music featured though, like pop artists, and there are Tejano bands on Tejano Appreciation Day, and Alicia Keys performed on Black Heritage Day. Something for everyone, really.

Months ago, when the concert lineup was announced, I went gung ho and bought tickets for three concerts: Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley. The last two concerts were back to back on Friday and Saturday. I ALMOST dreaded going. Almost. But now that they are all done and over with, I’m glad that I did go overboard, even though I was super tired for a week!

I’m not going to claim that I am a huge Willie Nelson fan, because I am not, or at least wasn’t up until the rodeo. I am familiar with and love his more popular works like On the Road Again and Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, but besides that I didn’t really know his stuff. So I listened to a lot of his music in the weeks before the concert to become more familiar, and I gained a lot of new favorites in the process. Basically I just knew that seeing Willie Nelson was quite the opportunity because he is a legend, and let’s face it, he might not be around for a lot longer.

I went to the Dierks Bentley concert because he is an old staple favorite of mine. I have seen Dierks Bentley three times now, also in Pennsylvania and New York. However, I admit that I kind of fell off the bandwagon with his music for a big chunk in the middle of his career, so I didn’t really know about half of the songs that he played during his concert, but it was still enjoyable. My favorite songs of his are What Was I Thinkin’ (his first single) and some of his more recent stuff like Different for Girls and Drunk on a Plane.

I was so burnt out by the time the Brad Paisley concert arrived that I almost considered skipping it. I am glad I didn’t because that concert ended up being my favorite. I bought tickets to his concert because I have liked the majority of his songs over the years. I guess I am more of a Brad Paisley fan than I thought, or maybe I just lucked out because Brad Paisley played all of my favorites including: Online, I’m Gonna Miss Her, American Saturday Night, Old Alabama, Mud on the Tires, I’m Still a Guy, etc. etc.

The prices for the tickets are excellent, which is why I was able to afford three. I got nosebleed seats for Willie and Brad (which weren’t all that bad to be honest) and first tier seats for Dierks, but I only spent about $75 total.

I’m already anticipating what the lineup will be for next year! I keep telling myself that I will not do three concerts next year, or at least not two in a row, but who knows! I am so excited to be living in a place where country music is at the forefront!

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